SINGAPORE — A recent report by United Nations University’s Institute for Water, Environment and Health, published on 16 March, analysed the global market for bottled water and its impact on the UN’s sustainable development goals.
The report found that Singapore ranked first globally in terms of annual revenue and volume of water sold per capita in 2021. Australians ranked second in both categories.
Singapore ranks sixth in total bottled water sales below the US, China, Indonesia, Canada and Australia with over US$7.5 billion in sales.
The report defines bottled water as water packaged in any type of container, including bottles, water dispensers, and sachets, for both individual and household use.
The report noted that Singaporeans spent far more on bottled water than any other country, with each person spending US$1,348 (S$1,800) and consuming 1,129 litres of bottled water in 2021.
In comparison, Australians spent US$386 and consumed 504 litres per person.
The United States, Indonesia and Malaysia ranked significantly lower than Singapore in both per capita bottled water consumption and revenue.
In any case, consumers of bottled water will have to pay a deposit for their bottled drinks from April 2025 as part of a scheme to reduce waste and increase recycling rates in Singapore.
A S$0.10 (US$0.07) deposit will be added to the price of the beverage and will be refunded when the empty bottle or can is returned. This is part of the Resource Sustainability (Amendment) Bill passed in Parliament on Wednesday (22 Mar).
Netizens puzzled with the report finding
Some Singaporean netizens were puzzled over the report’s findings and believed that the data might be skewed.
They point out that the report did not take into account certain factors, such as Singapore being a small island nation with limited natural resources.
Some also argue that the water price in Singapore is more expensive than in other countries.
One netizen commented on The Straits Times Facebook post, “What kind of comparison is that? This only shows that our water is overpriced at US$1.19 per litre compared to Australia’s US$0.77 per litre.”
‘We got the best tasting tap water’
Another netizen commented that they have been drinking Singapore’s tap water for 35 years and find it to be of high quality, even among Asian countries.
“Why would anyone waste their money on bottled water here? Siow ah!”
One netizen asked who would want to buy all that bottled water or spend $1800 on it.
‘Probably based on sales revenue?’
A netizen pointed out an inconsistency in the report’s data, stating that something looks very incorrect in the surveys, and added that the report’s findings are likely based on the sales revenue of bottled water:
Disputing the report’s claims, another netizen made a calculation based on the reported figure of S$1800 spent on bottled water per person in Singapore.
He determined that this amounts to approximately $5 a day, assuming each bottle costs between $1 and $1.50, and criticised that the statistics seem exaggerated, as he would not purchase that many bottles of water daily.
On the other hand, another netizen holds a different perspective and believes that water dispensers are likely the biggest contributor to inflated water prices in Singapore.
What bottled water?
Another netizen believes that the report’s findings could be accurate, as he himself would buy bottled water instead, “I think it’s because it’s cheap and easily available.”
According to a netizen who is a bottled water user, she has been purchasing bottled water since secondary school because she doesn’t like the taste of boiled or tap water.
According to a netizen’s sharing, she knows someone who drinks only bottled water because they do not trust the office’s water dispenser system:
Speaking to the Straits Times, Dr Corinne Ong and Dr Maki Nakajima, research fellows at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy’s Institute for Environment and Sustainability (IES) at the National University of Singapore cited an IES study in 2019, where most households in Singapore are open to drinking tap water, boiled or unboiled, adding that only 3 per cent of the 1,000 households surveyed actually consumed bottled water.
According to Singstat, there are 1.39 million households with an average household size of 3.15 in 2015. If we were to assume the 3% still held in 2021, this would mean around 131,355 are responsible for the consumption of over 7 billion litres of water or 53,290 litres per individual at 146 litres per day for 2021.
But it could be that Singapore exports its bottled water instead of local consumption, or like what some have pointed out, Singapore has really overpriced water dispensers in homes and offices, as the report factor these in.